Weaver's Week 2006-03-05

Weaver's Week Index

'Iain Weaver reviews the latest happenings in UK Game Show Land.'

Those of you who were expecting a discussion of the mathematics behind Deal or No Deal will have to wait. Events have rather intervened.


Linda Smith 1958-2006

Radio comedian Linda Smith, who appeared on shows such as The News Quiz, Just a Minute and I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue has died of cancer aged 48.

The writer and broadcaster, who penned and starred in two series of popular sitcom Linda Smith's Brief History of Time Wasting, was voted the "wittiest person on radio" in a listener's poll in 2002; a trophy she referred to only obliquely, as being presented by Michael Rosen.

Mark Steel recalled a bon mot that William G Stewart would appreciate. "A group of us were watching the Euro 2004 final, which was won by Greece. As the Greek captain received the trophy, Linda said, 'We'll have that in the British Museum by the end of the week claiming it's ours.'"

Mark Damazer, the controller of Radio 4, said, "Linda Smith was a Radio 4 giant. She was incredibly funny. She generated an energy and warmth in every programme she ever did that made her fellow comedians and millions of listeners love her. It's a terrible loss."

Jeremy Hardy paid his tribute. "I am so lucky to have had such a wonderful friend. Working with someone so funny always reminded me of what comedy is all about. Her banter and flights of fancy were amazing. She was the wittiest and brightest person working on TV or radio panel games. And it was impossible to be in her company for more than a few minutes without laughing. Even when she was very ill, she had her friends laughing and feeling uplifted despite our sadness."

Born in the concrete suburb of Erith in 1958, Linda studied English and Drama at Sheffield, and after cutting her teeth in miners' benefit shows, became part of the New Comedy explosion of the mid-80s. She had an annual show at the Edinburgh Festival for most of the 90s, and eventually popped up on the radio. First on Radio 5's The Treatment, then to Just A Minute, ISIHAC, and The News Quiz. Six appearances on HIGNFY, and appearances on Call My Bluff, Countdown, and winning the celebrity panel on Test The Nation 2003.

By then, Linda had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, but it didn't stop her working. Her live show continued to tour into 2004, selling out thousand-seater venues with ease. Writing in the Independent, Mark Steel recalls a late flowering of her dislike for soulless corporatism. "Even a few days before she died, as she lay motionless and apparently oblivious to visitors, when someone mentioned a new television show starring Davina McCall, Linda suddenly looked up, glared and beamed, 'It's shite.'"

Linda Smith is survived by her long-time companion Warren Lakin and her sister Barbara.

Skating On Thin Ice

From the sublime to the ridiculous, and allegations of sharp practice on ITV's hit show Dancing on Ice. Our viewer reaction mailbag has been bursting at the seams this week, all with people saying one thing.

"Bonnie Langford is a professional dancer"
"It's tilted towards Bonnie!"
"Last night she was in the air for much longer than any other contestant and still was voted the best by the judges in the skate off."
"I thought the competition was about skating, not gymnastics!"
"Bonnie Langford does not spend much time actually on the ice, especially on her own."

It is worth noting that, even though Ms Langford has been highly ranked by the judges, she has often appeared in the bottom two once the viewing public have had their say. Last night's final was decided by public vote alone, the judges did not have a role in determining the winner, and it is no surprise to find that Ms Langford lost. (At least, we hope she did, that's the peril of writing ahead of transmission and watching The Other Side for next week's review.)

Crashing Through The Ice

Some sterling investigative work amongst the Bother's Bar Commentariat has revealed a most remarkable thing. For over six weeks, the boxes on Deal or No Deal have usually been numbered according to one of six sequences. If, for instance, the £250 was in box 6, and the £10,000 in box 11, then the top prize was in box 20. This offsetting is explained further at the start of last Monday's commentary.

This fact calls the competence of the adjudicators into serious question. It is incredibly simple to generate random sequences from 1 to 22 - a pocket computer could create zillions in a second. That the exact same pattern should recur ten times in thirty-odd games is utterly and completely beyond coincidence.

Now that the information is in the public domain, it is certain that the adjudicators have tightened up their act, generated a fresh sequence for each show by the impossible-to-rig method of drawing numbers out of a bag, and keep everyone happy. Apart from those of us who think Noel Edmonds' shirts are a crime against humanity, but even the greatest random number generator in the world is no guard against those.

This column is prepared to give the producers the benefit of the doubt. We are fully prepared to believe that the sequences were not known by the production team in any shape or form, did not influence player selection or offers, were not spotted by the players, and (until last weekend) were known only to the independent adjudicators.

For a game show to retain the trust of its viewers, it is not enough for it to be fair; it must be seen to be fair. This column has no evidence that Deal Or No Deal has actually been rigged. However, the programme has lost our faith. It does not appear to be completely and totally above board. Like a politician, a game show must be clean and must be seen to be clean.

Series producer Glenn Hugill has explained the problem on Bother's Bar (2 March entry), and this column accepts his explanation without reservation. He cites a poorly-constructed random number generator in a spreadsheet as being the root of the problem, and this would certainly explain the displayed symptoms.

Junior Mastermind

The 2006 final

The good news is that Songs of Praise didn't go to extra hymns, never mind penalty sermons, so we're away on time.

Ayla from Cambridge won week 4 with Harry Potter; today it's the Life and Work of Roald Dahl. As is traditional, each finalist gets to make a short film, and Ayla's is from the Dahl Museum. It's not quite a perfect round, 13 (0), but she has an awesome general knowledge potential.

Barney from West Yorkshire won in week 2 with the American Civil War, now it's the Zulu War of 1879. He's been to the Imperial War Museum, and has been taking advice from quiz deity Kevin Ashman. This is a tremendous showing, and Barney finishes on a remarkable 19 (0).

Roisin from the Wirral is playing to a theme - Roman Mystery books in week 3, Greek Mythology this time. Her film comes from the National Gallery, her performance is inspired, 17 (2).

Domhnall from Dublin is the highest-scoring runner-up, and has moved from the Spitfire to Mammals of the African Plains. His film was made at Dublin Zoo, and features the theme to Animal Magic. The standard of play today is tremendous, and 17 (1) keeps him in the running.

Adam from Kent took the Hitch-Hiker's Guide last week, and is taking Chelsea FC Since 1998. The film isn't from Stamford Bridge, but the team's training facility, and has a walk-on part from Jose Mourinho. Some of these questions are nasty - the reasons why some players didn't fly in 2001 would take Gary Lineker hours to explain. 11 (0) is a poor reward.

Finally, Sam from Rutland has swapped a bright orange shirt and James Bond for a sky-blue top and Dr Who 2005. Christopher Eccleston came to the studio a little while ago, and chats to Sam. It's another tremendous performance, finishing on 16 (0).

Hmm. There's not a long gap before Adam comes back, and the chat is perfunctory. Are we spinning the game short? He advances to 19 (4). Ayla is good, but not quite as red-hot as in her heats. She finishes on 29 (3). Sam tries his hardest, but 27 (3) is not going to be a winning score.

Roisin rises swiftly to 27 points, but then falls into pass hell. Her answer of "Black Forest gateau" is the last one, and puts her into the lead on 30 (6).

Domhnall suggests that Damon Albarn's cartoon band is called "Westlife", which though incorrect is surely the best wrong answer ever. It's just about his only wrong answer, and Domhnall finishes on 31 (1).

Barney needs thirteen to win, twelve and a pass to force a tie, and when he starts there are nine minutes until the next programme. He keeps the score ticking over, slowly but surely, and his final answer, "suffragettes", takes him to 31 points with one pass.

We have a tie! This has not happened on Junior Mastermind; it's not happened on the Senior version since it came back 2003. While Domhnall leaves the studio, Barney takes the chair, and scores one point. When he comes back, Domhnall is set the same questions, and gets two correct. By the tightest possible margin, Domhnall is the winner, and receives the trophy from last year's winner, Robin.

University Challenge

Before the Olympic break, we found out the first three quarter-finalists - SOAS beat Churchill Cambridge, London Business beat Nottingham, and in the repechage, Imperial College Medicine crept past St John's Oxford. In future weeks, we'll see Manchester, Lampeter, St Hilda's Oxford - who might yet admit male students - Hertfordshire, Sussex, and Gonville and Caius Cambridge. But first:

Second round, match 4: Liverpool v Trinity Cambridge

Liverpool were easy winners against Hull in week 4, Trinity were the first to defeat St John's Oxford in week 10. Liverpool are light on sciences, Trinity are strong there.

Liverpool just get the better of the opening exchanges, though very few of the bonuses are answered correctly. The Liverpool team also get the first visual bonuses, after which their lead is 50-30. You'll be able to see a full series of Name That Speed Camera on BBC3 next month.

Thumper is surprised when Liverpool suggest Agatha Christie was ennobled in 1991 - she had been dead for fifteen years. Trinity takes the lead with a question about the Razzies, and pulls further away with a question on the history of maths, and the concept of temperance. That'll be our Hidden Student Indicator of the Week, modern students can't afford to spend all their lives in the bar.

The audio round - on the work of Danny Elfman - is the first Liverpool have got since the cameras. Trinity have done well in the intervening period, and their lead is 120-65. Then Liverpool have their good quarter, closing the gap to just 15 points at one stage. Trinity don't let the lead slip, and by the second visual round - on cartoons of sleeping prime ministers - Trinity's lead is 150-100. The producers are harsh to disallow "saddle" in a round on geographic features when they wanted "col"; there's no difference in the definitions of the terms, but this will not swing the match.

Liverpool are not going down without a fight, first closing the gap to twenty points, then to ten. Both sides miss the common name for early US presidents, but Liverpool get a starter to bring the sides level, then one of the bonuses. Neither side particularly wants to get a starter right, but Liverpool make it, and extend the lead to 25 before making another starter to put the game beyond doubt. Though Trinity get the next starter, they don't get any bonuses. Liverpool win, 195-170.

Stephen Bromley was on the ball for Liverpool, buzzing for 67 points; Alistair Currie for Trinity made 68. It wasn't a classic week for bonus questions, none of the sets was answered perfectly, Liverpool finish on 13/39, Trinity on 13/33 with one missignal.

Next match: Trinity Hall Cambridge v Birmingham

This Week And Next

The Masterteam final this week, and Leeds raced to an 8-1 lead in the opening buzzer round. Southport pulled back a little, but Leeds won the round 10-5, to take possession of the specialist subjects. Southport were given Gardens and Gardening, and scored a respectable eight; Leeds chose Warfare and Military History, including a question on the 1879 Zulu War, and advanced their score to 22. Southport take 10 points at the start of the final round, Leeds miss their two-pointer.

In the second set of questions, Southport stick on 10, Leeds get the maximum 15, thanks to "Name Five of the Seven Wonders" and their lead is 4. In the third set, Southport again stick on 10, Leeds get "Name Four Songs from Sgt. Pepper" and "The First Five Cube Numbers" to score another 15, and extend their lead to 9. Southport miss their final set by erring on the 3-pointer, Leeds pick up 10, and win by 62-43.

Germany's never-ending Big Brother has, er, ended, with Michael picking up the €250,000 prize after spending five-and-a-half months inside. Never mind, they have to clear out some space for Antun Dec's Gameshow Marathon, starting with Ze Price Ist Richt!

Going up against live football was not a winning formula for Dancing on Ice, which recorded 9.5 million viewers on 18 February. Millionaire fell to 6.2 million, but Millionaire Manor fell short of BBC1's top 30, probably making fewer than 4 million. Very few game shows on BBC2 that week, thanks to the Winter Olympics - Link registered 3.2 million, Des on Old News had 2.3m, the same score as saw a profile of Tim From Last Year's Apprentice.

Countdown fell short of Channel 4's top 30, but Channel 5 had 1.05 million viewers for the final of Britain's Psychic Challenge. By comparison, 950,000 saw Pop Idle US on ITV2 Friday. It is interesting to note that BBC4's Jackanory night pulled in 270,000.

Next week's Week will review A Song for Europe and Just the Two of Us.

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